Tag Archives: photography

In Memoriam: Oliver Bernard Ellis

Photograph of Oliver Bernard Ellis in uniform.

Oliver Bernard Ellis

Oliver Bernard Ellis was killed in active service over the German lines near Arleux on 19th May 1917, aged 18 years.

He was from Leicester and attended Bootham School from 1912 to 1916.  He was a keen sportsman at school, and also very interested in natural history and photography.

The March 1915 issue of Bootham Magazine tells us:

REPORT OF THE OLD SCHOLARS’ ASSOCIATION NATURAL HISTORY EXHIBITION COMMITTEE, 1914.

“After the absence of competitors last year we are pleased to welcome the work of three ornithologists. O. B. Ellis, of Leicester, shows an extensive series of observations, illustrated by photographs and lantern slides. These include an excellent series, starting with the cuckoo’s egg in the hedgesparrow’s nest, and showing the development of the cuckoo and the fate of the young hedge-sparrow. The black-headed gulls and other water-fowl at Skipwith have been studied and illustrated by a further series of creditable photographs. There were extensive fatalities among young gulls, but some suspicion cast upon owls seems to have been dispelled by careful examination of their pellets. A long essay on ‘ How Birds Protect their Eggs ‘ shows that O. B. Ellis has tried to arrange his observations and make them of value. We award him an exhibition of £7.”

Photograph of hedgesparrow, by O B Ellis

Hedgesparrow, photo by O B Ellis

Oliver had found the newly-hatched cuckoo fledgling in a nest on Strensall Common.  He made a unique photographic record if its growth by cycling to Strensall every other day.  To maintain the sequence, Oliver had on several occasions to break out of School before dawn, take the photographs when there was enough light, and then get back in time for “Silence”.

When he left, the school magazine, Bootham, wrote of him:

“O. B. ELLIS excelled in all forms of athletics. He was a brilliant and daring gymnast, weathering all hurts. He was an able goal-keeper, where he obtained his 1st Masters’ colours, and, later, played at outside right. At cricket he obtained his 1st eleven colours. Last year he obtained the Silver Medal of the Life-Saving Society and served on the Athletics and Football Committees. Last year he tied for the Senior Athletics Cup, and helped to command the Fire Brigade. He was a wonderful practical photographer, and was very patient over his ornithological excursions with the camera. He was a curator of ornithology and the N.H. [Natural History] rooms, and two years ago obtained the Old Scholars’ Prize. He leaves from the Upper Senior, and was a reeve [prefect].”

Oliver had a place at St John’s College, Cambridge and had hoped to take up his residence there in the autumn of 1916.  However, he joined that Royal Naval Air Service in June 1916.

He was trained at Redcar R.N.A.S. Station for three months.  In November he was transferred to Cranwell where he quickly qualified for his first class pilot’s certificate.  In March 1917 he was confirmed in the rank of Flight Sub-Lt.   He left England for Dunkirk, and shortly afterwards to the front in Flanders, and then to Squadron No 1 R.N.A.S., near Arras.  On May 20th he was notified as “missing” and enquiries found that he had gone down on May 19th in an engagement with a superior force over the German lines, “east of Arleux”.

In a letter received from Squadron Commander R. S. Dallas, R. N.:

“……I am afraid I was not actually leading the patrol you mention on the 19th May.  I was leading one patrol and was joined by another in which your son was.  We became engaged in a bit of a fight, and your son gave a very fine account of himself indeed.  He has already shot down one of his opponents when I say him attacked by another.  Your son was very tenacious and fought it out, and went down out of control through the clouds……. “

Squadron Commander Haskins writes:

“…. Although your son was not with more than a few weeks, I had formed a high opinion of him as an officer and a fighting pilot.  A cheery messmate, always trading for any work or play, he is a great loss to us ………. Your son has helped us to maintain our present superiority over theGerman air service, which is essential to winning this war, and that is a valuable service to our country…..”

The Headmaster wrote in “The Friend”:

“Oliver Ellis came to Bootham from Sidcot with a reputation for genial friendship and for holding the junior sports championship two years in succession.  He proved himself a fearless football player, a brilliant and daring gymnast.  He took a good position in class, and did excellently in his pilot’s examination a few months ago.  He was a keen ornithologist and a forceful reeve – full of the spirit of adventure when he left school less than a year ago.  His loss will be felt in a large circle of friends, for his has left behind him that worthier thing than tears, the love of friends without a single foe.”

The news of his death made a deep impression on the school.  One of his school-fellows says:

“We could scarcely believe that one who possessed his gifts had been taken so soon.  His energy and spirit, combined with remarkable thoroughness, made his a leader in every undertaking; and his open honesty made him the true friend of all who knew him.”

In a letter home, dated May 3rd 1917, Oliver had written  “….. thank God that I’ve got the safest job in this war. Don’t worry about me, I’m having the time of my life and am enjoying myself hugely, and the war can’t last for ever.”

Oliver Bernard Ellis is remembered on the Arras Flying Services Memorial, Pas de Calais, France.

Oliver was the subject of a series of articles for Explore Your Archives week in 2014. More may be read about him here:

Oliver Bernard Ellis – Part 1 (Athletics) http://blogs.boothamschool.com/archives/?p=329

Oliver Bernard Ellis – Part 2 (Natural History) http://blogs.boothamschool.com/archives/?p=335

Oliver Bernard Ellis – Part 3 (Railway Buildings) http://blogs.boothamschool.com/archives/?p=344

Oliver Bernard Ellis – Part 4 (“A letter from Alexandria”) http://blogs.boothamschool.com/archives/?p=348

Oliver Bernard Ellis – Part 5 (R.N.A.S.) http://blogs.boothamschool.com/archives/?p=355

 

Oliver Bernard Ellis – Part 2 (Natural History)

This post continues from Part 1 and is a series for Explore Your Archives week.

Next I moved on to his photography and natural history interests. I found a collection of photographs by Oliver Bernard Ellis, which along with the natural history annual reports in the magazine, show the range of work he was doing.

OBEllis NatHist Album - LR Copy

The photograph above is from the collection of photographs (which is titled “O.B. Ellis Natural Science (Illustrations) Upper Senior 1914-15″) and is labelled “No. II Whinchat. Photographed half way to Skipwith in June 1914. It had a nest close by.”

Oliver was mentioned several times in the January 1915 Annual Report of Bootham School Natural History, Literary & Polytechnic Society. He won the Old Scholars’ Exhibition “with his interesting observations on the protective colouring of eggs and young.” He gave a talk on the subject, with lantern slides, at the Christmas Show. Later on the report mentioned that he showed “a number of bones collected from owl pellets, with the object of ascertaining the nature of the food of the owls of a particular district and of discovering whether they were responsible for an unusually high death rate, which had been observed among the young birds of the district.”

The Ellis family produced volumes of copies of letters and diaries by Oliver Bernard Ellis, and we have a copy of the two volumes in the archive. There is an enormous amount of material contained in the letters, more than I have yet had time to study properly. I did however notice a reference to bird photography in the diary entry of June 20th 1914. He got up when it was just light and cycled to Skipwith (just over 10 miles) to photograph a young cuckoo. He got back to school by 5.30am, and had an hour of sleep before getting up time.

The series continues tomorrow with the station buildings.

Explore Your Archive

This week (10th -16th November) is ‘Explore Your Archive’ week! It’s a week to talk about how interesting and brilliant archives are, and what you can do with them.

Throughout the week, I’ll be writing posts and tweeting (@BoothamJennyO) about my research into one Old Scholar, Oliver Bernard Ellis, who attended Bootham between 1912 and 1916. He joined the Flying Corps, and was killed in 1917.

 1916 Leavers - LR Copy

1916 Leavers photograph – Ellis is second from right on the front row

His life takes us through photography, the high jump, and climbing the railway buildings in York. A series of letters home paint a vivid picture of his experiences. Hopefully I’ll show how the variety of records that are held can be brought together to tell the story, and how there are almost endless avenues to find once you start exploring an archive.

There is lots going on around the country – check the main website for details, and look at the National Archives blog for a week of hashtags on Twitter.

1914 Register – temperance and building a camera

Thanks again to Claire for researching this post.

It has to be said that reading personal accounts from Old Scholars has been a pure delight. Some accounts of time spent here were heart-warming, some thought provoking, some showing the variety of skills and experiences learnt from and some truly hilarious. We have captured some of those for you here – as we work through the Register there will be many more stories to tell!

Charles Heber Dymond (Bootham 1903-06)

“I worked ‘til about 21 years old in N.E.R. Locomotive shops at Gateshead and Darlington in the drawing offices of my fathers firm Vaughn & Dymond. I went out to San Paulo, Brazil as Assistant Manager to Anglo-Brazilian Forging, Steel Structural & Imparting Co. In 1912 I returned to the office at Vaughn & Dymond. Hobbies: Locomotive model building, cycling, tennis and motoring.

Alfred Russell Ecroyd (Bootham 1856-60)

In 1909 introduced the idea of total abstinence for the individual and prohibition for the State into Spain by distribution of some 60,000 temperance pamphlets by post and by hand throughout all the 49 provinces of Spain. All the 15,000 Doctors of Spain received one or more of these tracts in 1909, resulting in a revolution of medical practice in Madrid, Barcelona and other places where previously it was the fashion to order wine for nearly every ailment, to a general custom of ordering their patients to abstain, at all events during medical treatment. In one town this change reduced the mortality in 1909 to one-half of any previous year from 28 per 1000 to 14.5. In 1910, founder and first Editor of “El Absetmio” a quarterly temperance newspaper 40,000 copies of which are annually distributed gratuitously throughout Spain by the Spanish Anti-alcohol League, which he founded in 1911: In 1904-1906 in conjunction with the Wisbech Peace Society – the translation and distribution of 10,000 Peace tracts throughout all the provinces of Spain: Hobbies – National History, especially entomology, genealogy, meteorology, drawing and painting.

Walter Henry Fox (Bootham 1868-69)

[I feel his wife should firstly be given special mention for - Children: Frederick Neidhart (1881), Marie (1882), Elsie Henrietta (1883), Gertrude Emma (1885), Walter Egbert (1886), Dorothy Isabel (1887), Howard Neidhart (1888), Margaret Newsom (1890), John Prideau (1893), Amy Gertrude (1895), Helen Sophie (1897).] Walter has recollections of games, pranks, etc., such as heating old coppers and throwing them from the bedroom window to the old watchman: sticking pins in Junior Master’s alarm clock so that he overslept himself: Grateful recollection of special trouble taken by Fielden Thorp in his writing and reading.

Alexander Grace (Bootham 1853-54)

Together with William S Clark built a camera which was the first introduction of photography as a hobby in school : He says “The only time we were allowed off the premises (unless we had special leave to go into town) was Wednesday morning once a month, when we had a half-holiday walk, under care of the teachers, which was mostly devoted to our hobbies: Wednesday afternoons were given for our own useful employment in the school room : Before going into York I was very fond of making models; one Wednesday afternoon I was building “Aspley House” in cardboard, one of the teachers asked me if I thought it was a good way of employing my time, which stopped me, and I never did any modelling afterwards. We were not allowed newspapers – the Russian War was going on at the time – our head teacher, Till Adam Smith, used to read us extracts, keeping is posted up in what was going on”. [The headmaster at this time was in fact John Ford.]